By Emil Danielyan
Armenia is stepping up its efforts to forge closer links with European and Euro-Atlantic structures, President Robert Kocharian told a visiting senior official from NATO on Tuesday.
Meeting with NATO’s special representative to the South Caucasus and Central Asia, Robert Simmons, Kocharian said he has set up an inter-agency commission charged with coordinating his administration’s efforts at “European integration.” “Our objective is to not only keep the planned work on track but to move forward at a bit higher tempo and implement joint programs in full,” he said, according to his press service.
Kocharian apparently referred to Armenia’s involvement in the European Union’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) program, which entitles it to a privileged relationship with the club, and the implementation of its Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said during a separate meeting with Simmons on Monday that closer ties with NATO are “one of the important components of Armenia’s multi-layered security system.” Yerevan therefore stands for an “expansion of the political dialogue” with the U.S.-led alliance, he added.
Simmons praised this policy as he wrapped up his two-day visit to the Armenian capital. “Armenia wants to build a stronger partnership with NATO,” he told a news conference. “We are happy with the level of our relationship.”
The IPAP, which was launched last December, aims to bring Armenia closer to NATO by envisaging, among other things, a reform of its military that would boost its interoperability with the armed forces of NATO member states. Yerevan also undertook to develop and publicize a “defense doctrine” and a broader “national security strategy” in the coming years. A separate inter-ministerial commission headed by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian is already working on both documents.
Another stated aim of the IPAP is a democratization of Armenia’s political system, strengthening of its judiciary and a fight against corruption. NATO officials say privately that the Armenian authorities’ failure to make progress in these areas would adversely affect their integration into the Euro-Atlantic security structure. Statements released by Kocharian’s and Markarian’s offices, quoted Simmons as stressing the need for “strengthening democracy” in a country that has long faced Western criticism for its failure to free and fair elections.
Kocharian and other Armenian leaders have repeatedly stated that the IPAP is not a prelude to an Armenian bid to join the alliance. They have disavowed in that regard the outgoing parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s recent calls for Armenia’s eventual accession to NATO.
Simmons refused to comment on those calls and Baghdasarian’s ensued resignation. “NATO is not forcing Armenia to join the alliance,” he said.
(Presidential press service photo: Kocharian meeting with Simmons.)